If you are training a service dog for yourself, you may be wondering what your rights and responsibilities are. Do you need to carry documentation? Can you bring your dog with you to the doctor? What about to restaurants? This post provides some answers and resources.
Rights for Trained Service Animal Teams
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disabled people accompanied by a trained service animal have equal access rights to all public accommodations, including transportation, restaurants, lodgings, stores, medical and healthcare settings, etc.
Here is some additional information that may be helpful about the legal rights of business and service dog teams. Under the ADA, a trained service animal is a
- Trained to perform tasks or do work related to the handler’s disability
- Under handler control at all times, which is defined as leashed, tethered, harnessed, unless that would interfere with the dog’s work, in which case the dog must be under the handler’s control via voice, hand signals, or other cues)
- House trained
- Is not behaving in a way that fundamentally alters the nature of the service or poses a direct threat to others’ health and safety. Examples: a dog barks repeatedly during a movie, a dog growls and lunges at customers in a store, a dog covered in fleas in a doctor’s office. These dogs, or dogs with a history of such behavior, may be excluded.
- Medical and food service establishments may NOT restrict access to a service dog team even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
- When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Rights for Service Dog in Training (SDiT) Teams
The ADA does NOT grant access rights to people training a service dog. However, in many US states, people who are training a service dog have the same rights of access as disabled people accompanied by trained service animals. This varies from state-to-state.
Here in Massachusetts, under Massachusetts General Laws Ch129, S39F:
Section 39F. A person accompanied by and engaged in the raising or training of a service dog, including a hearing, guide or assistance dog, shall have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as those afforded to an individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. sections 12101 et seq.
To find out what the laws are in other states, start by looking for your state in this Guide to Assistance Dog Laws (PDF) by Assistance Dogs International. However, keep in mind that this document is several years old and laws change. So, check the footnotes to find out what the code is for the law (paragraph, section, etc.), and then look it up in your state’s laws to see the current incarnation of the law.
What About if People Don’t Know the Law?
While you may know your rights and responsibilities as a service dog handler or SDiT team, not everyone you come across will. And let’s be honest, the laws change often and are frequently confusing! It’s reasonable to expect that not everyone knows all the laws.
While SDiT or SD teams are under no legal obligation to provide places of accommodation with legal information, it often makes life easier for you to have something short and easy-to-read to offer people in stores, restaurants, doctor’s offices, etc. I offer my SDiT clients a card they can hand out that has some basic information on state and federal laws so they can respond to questions from strangers. I also write letters for clients who run into issues with doctors or other places they frequent. If you are working with another trainer, ask them to do something similar.
More Information and Resources
- Our blog post on Frequently Asked Questions about Service Dogs
- Unites States Department of Justice (DOJ) Service Animals handout — a one-page handout covering basic SD access issues that you may find worth printing and keeping with you
- DOJ’s longer Q&A document — Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA
- The DOJ also provides an ADA Info Line — Voice: 800-514-0301 or TTY: 800-514-0301-0383
Have you found another great legal resource for people training service dogs? Have a question about service dog training? Let us know in the comments.